Me: Gurmeet ji, why don’t you enter Bigg Boss, I am sure you must have got the offer many a time from the show?
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh: Beti, they have contacted me a lot of times, but I refused to because I can’t leave my devotees for months together.
On an official assignment to cover the launch of his film, Hind Ka Napaak Ko Jawaab, Dera Sacha Sauda chief and self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim came across as a decent man who addresses female journalists as “Beti”. Today as he stands convicted of rape and his followers torch the streets of Punjab, Haryana, the national capital and now even Rajasthan, I try to make sense of what makes the cult of Ram Rahim and what makes his followers so passionate about their “Guru”. I will rely on my memory to recall my experience of a day spent in Sirsa, where Ram Rahim’s Dera is headquartered.
But first a look at his criminal record. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh has been convicted in a 15-year old rape case and the sentence will be given on August 28. It’s not too difficult to chart out what’s in the offing. The charges leveled against him pertain to Section 376 (rape) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC, which attract the punishment of seven years (may also extend to life-term) and imprisonment of not less than three years, respectively. As I am writing this, I can hear the news of 17 people killed and several injured in the violence instigated by Baba’s followers in Panchkula, where the verdict on the case had been announced. Both Haryana and Punjab had already been on high alert due to the possibilities of riots. Internet and telecom facilities had been blocked. Offices and schools had been shut. Vehicles on the roads are now being burnt. Two railway stations have been set on fire. And by the time I’ll be done writing this article, many more reports of violence on journalists and rising death toll are bound to pour in. This is insane, to say the least.
When I had visited his dera in Sirsa earlier this year, the entire city was decked up in celebration. It was the launch of one of Baba’s films — Hind Ka Napaak Ko Jawaab, a film by Dr. MSG influenced by the surgical strikes on Pakistan. There were more than 1 crore people present at the grand event, which lasted for three days, as told by Baba’s managers. It was a strange city where right from a packet of salt to a movie theatre, everything had one name — MSG. In the theatres there, Baba Ram Rahim’s movies have back to back shows. In the camps where people live, the chants of ‘dhan dhan satguru tera hi asra’ could also be heard. From a seven-year-old kid to a 60-year-old, every other person had at least one story to tell about Babaji’s miracle. Leave the poor villagers or seemingly well-settled business men, foreigners, NRIs and celebrities also had registered their presence. At the particular event, popular film critic and business analyst, Komal Nahta, was present as well. At another event that followed, actor Bindu Dara Singh was spotted.
It’s also strange that Baba’s bhakts, who are now so adamant on propagating violence, are full of unbelievable stories around their dear Baba. I had met a middle aged couple who was playing with a newborn child in a park outside our hotel. I also remember the baby’s name because her parents were so enthusiastic to ‘enlighten’ me about their Babaji, who by the way had been given a Z+ security by the government of India. For them, their little Bani was the blessing from Gurmeet Ram Rahim as they wanted a child for so many years and the baby came into their lives after 14 years of the marriage. According to them, it was Baba who ‘put his hand on the head’ of the mother to bless her and also named the baby later.
In another incident, that I find even more amusing, an Indian born Dubai resident had come to listen to the Baba’s satsang. When I asked him why had he flown down from UAE, he told me with a Gulf accent, that it was Baba who saved his life a few years back and since then, his entire family had turned into ardent devotees of MSG. He revealed that he was suggested by doctors in Dubai to undergo a brain surgery days after an accident, but he called Baba, who was in Mumbai and explained him the entire situation. Babaji asked him to fly down to Mumbai immediately. He met the godman who put his hand on his head and asked him to relax and get some tests done in a Mumbai hospital which was recommended by the Baba himself. The man then revealed how the real miracle happened. The medical reports showed no ailment and that he was doing fine, therefore didn’t require any surgery.
Not just these two, there were young men and women, some of whom came from metro cities of Delhi and Mumbai just to serve their beloved godman. A young woman, who was guiding me through my hotel-room from the ashram said that she found working at Baba’s ashram to be peaceful because she wanted to contribute to the good things that MSG does. A young boy and his uncle had arrived for Baba’s ‘darshan’ because, for them, the godman had helped their boy quit drugs. I also found a young woman from Australia sitting quietly in the front row of VIPs at the humungous event. Her reason to become Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s follower stemmed from the fact that she had learned a specific kind of workout from Baba that helped cure pain in her legs.
All this seemed like the story of a propaganda film, something like those in North Korea, to polish Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s image among the audience. But, one cannot dare say anything against him or ask his followers to get their facts checked. The faith is so blind that one can’t tell them to look rationally and see the other side of the world where their dear babaji has been accused of crimes. So much was the persuasion that if I had spent two more days at the dera, I fear I would have myself started chanting ‘dhan dhan satguru tera hi aasra’.
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